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MPT gets record $1 million gift

The Baltimore Sun

Maryland Public Television announced yesterday the largest gift in its history, a $1 million donation that will be used to help develop new programming.

Maryland Public Broadcasting Commission Chairman Edward H. Kaplan and his wife, Irene Kaplan, have promised to give $1 million during the next four years for development in MPT's New Initiatives Campaign. The gift is at least twice as large as any other given at one time to Maryland Public Television and much larger than what the organization had asked for, said Robert J. Shuman, MPT's president and chief executive officer.

"It's been my experience with charitable organizations that they spend so much time just trying to keep the doors open, there's almost never any money in the budget for new and innovative programming," said Kaplan, 59, a real estate developer from Potomac.

Though no official plans have been made for the gift's use, the money will go toward identifying initiatives to support in the future.

The purpose of the money "is to stretch - it is not just to do safe things," Shuman said. "There'll be times when we make investments in our community that in time may not be sustainable."

Shuman and Kaplan said they want the station to be able to take chances even if some of the efforts fail. Kaplan said such new ideas are needed to strengthen MPT so that it can continue in its "mandate to serve the citizens of Maryland."

"I hope this will give them the opportunity to try some new ideas and not have to go out and find someone to fund it," Kaplan said. "You always have to be innovative if you want to maintain your audience."

The Kaplans have been involved heavily in MPT's Chesapeake Bay Week, an initiative that seeks to outline the "treasures and challenges" facing the bay and to increase volunteerism by "turning viewers to do-ers," Shuman said.

Shuman said the Kaplans were originally asked to donate $100,000 a year. The Kaplans went above and beyond that request, more than doubling it. For now, the organization is deciding what to do with the unexpectedly large gift.

"We do have a list of projects or interests, whether it's in the arts or health care," Shuman said.

Among the projects the station is considering is a partnership with the Maryland Department of Human Resources designed to increase the number of foster care families in the area. The state agency has a target of 1,000 new foster families by 2010, and MPT will air a program this month about foster care, as told by the children in the program. It will be rebroadcast in November, with a live phone bank for interested families to call.

"This is a transformational gift," Shuman said. "It will enable us to better partner [with] our community, better serve our community in a way we have not been able to before."

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